The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 010
Portrait of Captain Williams

Portrait of Captain Williams

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1856/1857
Collection: Whereabouts Unknown
Accession Number: unknown
Medium: oil
Support: unknown
Size: unknown
Signature: unknown
Inscription: unknown
Frame: unknown


The Portrait of Captain Williams probably dates from the winter of 1856 to 1857. 1

On 5 August 1900 Whistler told Elizabeth Robins Pennell (1855-1936), '[I]n Paris, when I was first studying, Captain Williams from Stonington; Stonington Bill they called him, got me to paint his portrait, and then gave me a commission to copy as many pictures as I chose for twenty-five dollars a piece.' 2 The 'Captain' was almost certainly Charles Phelps Williams (1804-1879). He was travelling in Europe from about September 1856. In January 1857 Whistler was working on copies for Captain Williams. If the artist remembered the sequence of events correctly, and the portrait of Williams was painted in Paris, it probably dates from between September 1856 and January 1857, and was sent with his copies to C. P. Williams' house in Stonington by March 1858. 3

Whistler's copies included Copy after Schnetz's 'Les Adieux du consul Boëtus à sa famille' y013; Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc' y015; Copy after a Picture of an Inundation y016, and Copy after Odier's 'Episode de la retraite de Moscou' y017.


Portrait of Captain Williams, Whereabouts unknown
Portrait of Captain Williams, Whereabouts unknown

C. P. Williams, photograph, Private Collection
C. P. Williams, photograph, Private Collection



Only one title has been suggested:


A portrait of a man of about fifty years of age.


C. P. Williams, photograph, Private Collection
C. P. Williams, photograph, Private Collection

'Captain Williams' was almost certainly Charles Phelps Williams (1804-1879).

Whistler's mother, Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), did not like Captain Williams. She wrote to Whistler in 1856, at a time when Williams and his daughter were travelling in Europe, 'I wonder if you have stumbled upon the Williams! I cant write you a sketch of his rudeness at me for I never have personal intercourse with him, but I hope you may never seek him tho he & Bessie & Georgie B are from Stonington.' 5 The daughter mentioned was Bessie Williams (1833-1902). Her friend, Georgia Palmer Babcock (Mrs C. P. Williams) (1837–1910), married Captain Williams after the death of his first wife.




Conservation History






Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) recorded that a portrait of Captain Williams was 'Painted for a gentleman friend of Capt Williams of Stonington, Conn. his first commission which included 4 other paintings then in the Luxembourg.' 6

It is not known if the portrait was completed by Whistler, or if it was eventually sent to Stonington.


There is no record of an exhibition.


Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905


Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

Journals 1906-Present





1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 10).

2: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 171.

3: A. M. Whistler to J. Whistler, 29 January 1857 and 25 March 1858, GUW #06480 and #06495.

4: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 10).

5: A. M. Whistler to J. Whistler, 23 September 1856, GUW #06476.

6: [1902], Diaries, Bk 12, Freer Gallery Archives.